As Carolyn parked the car in front of the Coburn residence the next Friday night she once again rued ever getting into this mess. Maybe she could just start the car up again, head into town and they could crash Martha's movie date with Mr. Peevey instead. Knowing that she was grasping at straws she took a deep breath, touched the strand of pearls around her neck as a talisman, gathered up the kids and hoped Marilyn's brother behaved himself. She shuddered to think what would happen if he tried to be overly friendly. Jonathan rang the doorbell and the door flew open as though Mrs. Coburn had been ready to pounce on it from the moment she heard Carolyn's car pull up; mostly because she had been waiting to pounce on it from the moment she heard Carolyn's car pull up.
Marilyn had become fed up with her brother's playing the field and felt it was time for him to marry and settle down. If Carolyn didn't cure his playboy ways, nothing would. The fact that this was none of her business didn't trouble Marilyn; the thought never even crossed her mind.
Linda, Jonathan and Candy ran off to play leaving Carolyn feeling abandoned until she heard a comforting voice in her ear.
"Relax m'dear, you aren't being led to the gallows. I am here."
Carolyn smiled at his words and followed Marilyn into the living room. Marilyn grabbed the drink out of her brother's hand and pulled him over to introduce him to Carolyn. Carolyn silently noted with some satisfaction that he didn't seem anxious to meet her either. Carolyn's observation had been correct, until the words, "Carolyn Muir; my brother, Brian Clements," were said and Brian grasped her hand in greeting, all the while wondering what a babe like this was doing in the backwater of Schooner Bay.
Why did Carolyn feel that Marilyn expected the heavens to open and a choir of angels to start singing?
"Amateur, he should at least kiss your hand."
Carolyn laughed, but not out of delight at meeting Brian. Marilyn took Carolyn's laugh as a positive sign and disappeared somehow even faster than the Captain could.
"As this is my sister's house, I feel the duties of host extend to me as well; may I offer you a drink, Carolyn?" Brian asked as he tried to link Carolyn's arm into his own and walk her over to the bar. Carolyn was having none of walking arm in arm with this man and pulled away; trying not to think about how much she hated another man calling her 'Carolyn'.
"Carolyn? Awfully familiar for someone who just met you. What a weak chin he has."
"You'll say what, Carolyn?" Brian asked, unaware that any comment had been made concerning his lack of chin.
"I'll say...I'd like a drink," Carolyn covered, "and I prefer to be called 'Mrs. Muir'."
"Come now, Carolyn, a beautiful woman like you needed cower behind such formalities."
"I am not cowering and I would like a gin and tonic, please."
Brian retreated to make the drink and it had to be purely accidental that the tonic water splattered all over his face when he opened the bottle.
Carolyn bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing out loud and thought that this evening might not be so bad after all.
"Son of a…", Brian yelled, forgetting for a moment that not only was he a guest in his sister's home, he was trying to impress a woman as well. He looked over to where Carolyn was standing and grinned sheepishly, "excuse me for a moment, I seem to have lost a battle with a bottle and must go clean up." He left the room.
Mr. Coburn took over the duties as bartender and served Carolyn her drink. It was no surprise to Carolyn that a bottle of Scotch wound up on the floor after Mr. Coburn made no attempt to conceal a leering gaze at her. In fact, the only surprise was that Mr. Coburn didn't wind up flying through a window. As Carolyn walked over to the fireplace to sit down she heard Mr. Coburn cursing the unsteady beverage cart as several other bottles crashed to the floor.
Now she could have some peace and quiet; except for welcomed commentary in her ear. Most of the comments were very funny; an outrageous supposition about one couple, a review of Brian's bad fashion sense, a scathing critique of the decor and various other jokes that kept earning Carolyn strange looks from the other guests when she kept covering her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
Marilyn saw this and was frantic. Why was Carolyn sitting alone? Where was her idiotic brother? She marched over to the fireplace determined to talk up her brother in his absence. "Carolyn, I'm so glad Brian has finally come back for a visit and that I could introduce you, I've been wanting to for so very long.
"I'll reconnoiter, make sure she doesn't have a minister and wedding cake set up somewhere to ambush you."
Carolyn coughed as she took a sip of her drink in reaction to the Captain's joke. Once was more than enough for that situation.
"Are you all right, Carolyn?" asked Mrs. Coburn.
"Fine, fine," she answered as she put her drink down and recovered.
The light caught her hand which gave Marilyn the opportunity to ask a question she had been curious about for quite some time, "Carolyn, that's a beautiful ring you are wearing."
"Thank you," Carolyn answered as she glanced at her at ring. It was a beautiful ring and looking at it always made her smile.
Marilyn was hoping for a little more than that, "it's not the same wedding band you wore when you came to Schooner Bay."
"No, no it isn't. It's very observant of you to notice."
The whole town of Schooner Bay had noticed, and even though they were all curious about it, no one had the temerity to directly question Carolyn, they just chalked up as another one of her writer's idiosyncrasies.
Now Marilyn was getting a little fed up, Carolyn was being coy and it was infuriating, "but you haven't remarried."
Carolyn was now in a bit of a quandary; they had taken their vows in a dream, and even though the rest of Schooner Bay didn't know about it, she considered herself very married. There was only one thing she could do: avoid the question, "I felt it was time to close that chapter of my life, as part of that I put my wedding ring away. I found I missed wearing a ring, so I started wearing this family heirloom." Carolyn didn't mention which family it was from and Marilyn didn't notice. She was so thrilled that Carolyn was ready for marriage again that she wanted to jump out of her chair.
"You do realize she is mentally planning a garden wedding complete with floral archway and Candy as flower girl at this very moment. I can see it in her eyes. It's frightening," the Captain quipped. Carolyn ignored him, for now; this was going to have to be one of those things they would laugh about later.
Marilyn managed to quash her enthusiasm and having ascertained the most crucial bit of information she wanted, decided to switch to a more banal topic, "it's so nice to see you out of that creepy Gull Cottage and mixing with new people." Creepy? Had she actually called Gull Cottage creepy? This couldn't end well.
Carolyn tensed and glanced up to ward off any flying fireplace irons. "I must have heard you incorrectly, Marilyn, did you call Gull Cottage 'creepy'?"
"That place has always given me the willies, Carolyn, it's just so spooky, I don't know how you can stand to spend so much time there," Marilyn shuddered as she answered.
"I find nothing spooky, creepy or willie giving about the house. I love its charm."
"Oh, that's right, I forgot you didn't grow up around here."
"What does that have to do with Gull Cottage?"
"It was a rite of passage. All the teenagers would go up there. You had to open the front door, step inside and close the door behind you. That was the scariest part, you were inside that house afraid that somehow the door would lock behind you and you would never be able to get out and you would die there. The place was dark and there were cobwebs everywhere. There was a trunk at the top of the stairs and I was terrified something would pop out of it or it would come down the stairs, or both." Marilyn shook, trying to rid herself of the memory.
"Obviously you survived."
"Yes, but I am still uncomfortable there. Back then, I didn't even step off the step, just gripped Jake's hand until I almost drew blood."
"Jake? You went up there with your husband?"
"Future husband, well, I mean I didn't know then he was my future husband, he was just my boyfriend at the time. That was the real reason everyone went; the boys would use the atmosphere to scare us into their arms. It worked very well. We'd wind up on the beach wrapped up in their arms longing for protection and comfort."
"Just how many times did they get away with this?"
"It depended on how many times the girl wanted to spend some time on the beach in her boyfriend's arms pretending to be frightened."
"A man chases a woman until she catches him," was whispered into Carolyn's ear. She smiled and kept her focus on Marilyn.
"I went once, that was enough for me. If you didn't go at least once everyone made fun of you. Some girls made a habit of it though, pretending to be scared to catch a boy's attention. Really, looking back on it now it seems rather silly. Sure, the light fixture swayed, but there are always breezes going through a house, and every house has noises. I was scared more by reputation. I mean it seems so stupid now. Obviously the house isn't haunted or you wouldn't live there."
"Obviously," Carolyn smiled in return.
"Lying again about never seeing a ghost, Carolyn? No dessert for another two weeks."
"I'd stick my tongue out at you again, but there are too many witnesses."
"Did you say something, Carolyn?"
"Just a line of dialogue that popped into my head, you never know when inspiration will strike, curse of the writer."
Marilyn smiled at her indulgently, all the while thinking that the sooner she got Carolyn married off to her brother and out of creepy Gull Cottage the better, the woman was developing a reputation for eccentricity. In Marilyn's not well formed opinion, Carolyn spent too much time alone, it was just peculiar. Marilyn noticed her brother returning out of the corner of her eye and no longer able to contain herself jumped out of the chair to yell at him for leaving Carolyn alone for so long.
"Think I should invite him up to Gull Cottage tonight and try that ritual I missed by not growing up here?" Carolyn teased.
"Only if you want to see him not only thrown out of the house; but down the cliff as well."
Carolyn covered her smile by taking another sip of her drink.
"Carolyn!" Brian oozed as he made his way back over to her.
"You think maybe you could throw him off the cliff right now?" Carolyn said out of the corner of her mouth.
"Unfortunately we do not have a near enough cliff."
"Isn't that always the way."
"Mr. Clements, I believe I said I preferred to be called Mrs. Muir."
"Care, Care, Care, Care, Care," he effused as he picked up her hand and patted it. Carolyn pulled her hand away and thought that at least 'Care' was better than 'Carolyn'. It really wasn't, but in her mind 'Carolyn' belonged to one man and she hated when anyone else tried to use her first name.
Carolyn forced a tight smile; she'd call him Brian right around the same time she moved out of Gull Cottage, in other words, never. She was spared for the moment by Marilyn announcing that dinner was being served.
"So soon?" Brian whined, "I haven't had a chance to spend any time with you at all."
"Noticed that have you? Maybe you aren't as dim-witted as you look."
Carolyn bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing.
"Here, allow me to escort you to the dining room," Brian tried.
"I can manage by myself, thank you."
"Nonsense, I insist on catering to your every whim, tonight and every night."
Carolyn's eyebrows shot up, "if that is the case, then my current 'whim' is to walk to the dining room alone."
"I wonder if there are any throw rugs about that he could 'accidentally' trip over," came a disembodied voice.
Carolyn rose from her chair and walked as quickly as she could to the dining room, avoiding the odious Mr. Clements as much as she could, which wasn't much as he trailed behind her as closely as he could. She knew she was hoping beyond hope that they wouldn't be seated next to each other, but she let the fantasy live for a few minutes anyway. They entered the dining room and Marilyn ushered them to their seats…right next to each other. Carolyn sighed and tried to sit down but Brian, trying to pass himself off as a gentleman, pulled her chair out for her. She had no choice but to thank him and she settled into the chair.
Carolyn gritted her teeth and resolved to just get through the next couple of hours. This became suddenly much easier as when Brian tried to sit down he found his chair was no longer there. It had been pulled out from behind him by an unseen force. Brian wound up in an undignified heap on the floor; shocked and unable to understand what had happened, his chair had been there just a couple of seconds ago.
"Oh my, are you all right?" Carolyn asked hoping that she sounded sincere to the rest of the party.
Brian pulled himself together with as much bravado as he could. "Fine, fine, everything is fine," he said as he stood up and found his reluctant chair. Marilyn just closed her eyes and shook her head, wondering what else could go wrong tonight. It was a thought she later regretted.
Finally seating himself comfortably next to Carolyn; Brian tried to lean in closer to her, but found he couldn't move past the edge of his chair. It made no sense. He kept trying to move, but even his formerly mobile chair seemed bolted to the floor. How was he supposed to ply his charms with this woman if he couldn't even get closer to her? Eventually he gave up and settled for pouring her a glass of wine, which went rather smoothly. Even Carolyn was surprised by that, she looked up, ostensibly to thank Brian for the wine, but really seeing beyond him. This questioning glance was answered with a, "there's no reason to waste good wine." She smiled and turned back to the table to see the salad course was served.
Carolyn hoped that if she ate quickly she could get out of there sooner and back to where she really wanted to be, home at Gull Cottage. To that end she focused on her food and ignored Brian as best she could. He was not to be so easily thwarted though. "Those are beautiful pearls, Carolyn. A gift from your husband?"
She touched the pearls, certainly they were from her husband, just not the one Brian thought he was talking about. Brian read this as her trying to contact a life gone by, "I'm sorry if it's a touchy subject for you, but isn't it time to let go? Get back into circulation? Have a little fun?" He raised his eyebrows, completely focused on her. Carolyn forced herself to keep from laughing, especially when Brian found his hand plopped into his salad. She continued to caress the pearls, granting her husband free reign with whatever he had in mind for this dinner party.
Brian finally noticed his hand was wet with salad dressing, "what the…?" he gasped as he reached for his napkin to wipe his hand dry. Marilyn just shook her head and realized the reason her brother wasn't married wasn't because he was a playboy; he was just inept with women. This was worse than she thought, she could see now that her best laid plans were indeed going astray and she didn't know how to course correct.
The Captain leaned in between Carolyn and Brian. Even though Brian couldn't hear him, he warned, "keep your eyes off of my wife's pearls. The consequences could be very nasty." Brian was suddenly uneasy, although he didn't know why. The room had become chilly and he had a strange sense of foreboding. It unnerved him, but he resolved that a beautiful woman trumped apprehension any day. He tried to shake off the feeling, and did a fair job of it, but couldn't suppress it completely.
While Brian was momentarily lost in his own world, Carolyn finished off her salad in record time and took a sip or two of wine to reward herself for making it this far into the evening. It was an enjoyable wine, but she kept wishing for a quiet attic and a carafe of Madeira instead of this gaggle of people who kept looking at Brian and herself as though they expected an engagement announcement at any moment.
The salads were cleared and some sort of chicken dish was served. Carolyn didn't know or care what it was; she had her mind set on one goal. Unfortunately, her neighbor was redoubling his efforts to woo her, "what beautiful eyes you have, Carolyn, I could gaze into them all night trying to decide if they are green or grey." Everyone else at the table was shocked when the lights dimmed and surmised there was something wrong with the power company. Carolyn knew there was nothing wrong with the power.
"Thank you, Mr. Clements; however I still prefer to be called Mrs. Muir." Truly, she'd prefer her real name, "Mrs. Gregg", but appearances must be upkept. It was a shame really; there was only one person who had the luxury to address her as "Mrs. Gregg"; Martha. They'd argued over it for several months, not because Carolyn didn't want to be called "Mrs. Gregg", she wanted to hear it more than anything, she was just afraid that Martha would slip up someday and call her "Mrs. Gregg" when they were out shopping. She could only imagine what kind of hubbub that would start. She finally gave in when she realized that "Mrs. Muir" was no longer appropriate and that Martha certainly had enough sense to use a code name when out in public. It was a choice that made her very happy as being called "Mrs. Gregg" always made her smile.
Brian grinned at her, "baby, it's the '70's, loosen up!"
"Baby? Does he think you are a child?" A clap of thunder shook the house.
Brian picked up his wine glass to toast the vision of beauty next to him, "I've never been this clumsy around a woman, Cara Mia, it must be your charms that have turned me into the clod I am today."
Did he really just call her 'Cara Mia'? Carolyn didn't even have to look up; she could hear the Captain rolling his eyes. She really had to put her foot down, "Mr. Clements…"
Carolyn was interrupted, "it's Brian, baby; you and I are going to make some beautiful memories together," he lifted his glass to her and winked. At that point a very strange thing happened; his arm flung the wine into his own face. He put the empty glass on the table, gasping and grabbing for his napkin to wipe his face clean. He was in such shock he couldn't even begin to comprehend what had happened and how it had happened. Carolyn certainly hadn't shoved the glass at him, her hands were on the table; and he had not slipped, causing the wine to splash on himself, it made no sense.
Another clap of thunder shook the house. Pandemonium ensued at the table. The only party guest other than Carolyn who remained calm was Claymore. For once he had been enjoying the Captain's antics instead of bearing the brunt of them. He far preferred being outside the realm of the Captain's anger, it cut down on his dry cleaning bills, and it was just plain old fun to watch.
"Oh my, I do think there is a storm brewing, I think I should gather the kids and hurry home before it hits," Carolyn rose to leave, "I'm sorry Marilyn, I must be going." Seeing that this was indeed a lost cause, Marilyn threw her napkin on the table in disgust and went to the stairs to call the kids down. She was disappointed in the events of the evening and angry at her brother for not trying harder.
Carolyn practically ran out the door and threw the kids into the car in her efforts to get home. For the rest of his life Brian tried to understand the events of that evening, but never came to a satisfactory conclusion. Marilyn eventually forgave him, but she never understood why he did everything he could to sabotage himself that night.
As Martha returned home from her date, she heard two voices in the parlor as she locked the front door.
"Martha?" she heard Mrs. Gregg call.
Martha peaked into the parlor to see the Captain and his lady seated on the couch, two glasses of Madeira graced the table.
The Captain stood and addressed Martha, "how was your evening?"
"Fine; thank you Captain, although sometimes I am not sure if Ed likes me or my pies."
"Any man worth his salt would be fortunate indeed to be able to spend any time with you or your pies."
Martha sighed and shook her head, she looked beyond the Captain to address his wife, "did he always have this gift for blarney?"
"Blarney? I am deeply offended Martha, I meant every word."
"Yes, Martha," Carolyn answered not bothering to comment on her husband's veracity.
"You never stood a chance, did you?"
Carolyn just shook her head and mouthed a 'no', trying to get the communication past the Captain without him knowing about it, as she didn't want to flatter his ego. He had the grace to pretend he didn't see her answer.
Martha chuckled, "good night you two," and turned to leave the room.
"Don't you want to hear about the dinner party, Martha?" Mrs. Gregg asked.
"It can wait until morning, after all, three's a crowd."
"Martha, don't be silly, come in and sit down. I know the Captain wants to regale you with tales of his chivalrous exploits."
Martha would not be persuaded, at this time of night three was definitely a crowd and it was time for her to leave, "I can be regaled just as easily in the morning, I'm a little tired right now anyway. Good night Captain," she nodded to Carolyn, "good night, Mrs. Gregg." And with that she shut the door behind her and went to bed.
Carolyn was a little surprised, she had fully intended to give Martha the complete blow by blow recap of the evening. The Captain returned to his place on the couch, "I believe the first part of that homily is, 'two's company', he said as he raised his glass to Carolyn.
She turned her attention to him and teased, "this is a much better use of wine. You were very naughty at the party, I thought you said you didn't want to waste good wine."
"I decided the wine didn't look that good and if you thought I was naughty earlier; wait until later."
She tried a chastising look at him, but was instead reduced to giggles, "you never told me you used to scare away amorous teenagers."
"Why would I waste your time telling you about the awkward courtships attempted by callow suitors?" He started laughing at the memories, "they were so pathetic; artless, really."
"But you obliged the boys in their attempts at seduction?"
"Of course; I wanted them all out of the house as soon as possible. The sooner they heard a noise, the faster they were out of here. No one stayed very long."
"I had no idea you were such a part of corrupting Schooner Bay youth."
"I corrupted no one. They had their games; I just wanted to be left alone, hence the ghostly noises. They left, I was alone, everyone was happy."
She smiled at him and moved closer, "do you still want to be alone?"
"Good, because we are in Gull Cottage right now and I am so very scared, you'll have to hold me," she emphasized the 'so very scared' so very coquettishly.
"I will, will I?"
"Mmmhmm, wouldn't want that scary ghost to get me, would you?"
"No, we couldn't have that. Are you trying to seduce me?"
"I don't think you need to be seduced."
He grinned, "I don't think you do either."
Another chapter in the amorous history of Gull Cottage was added that night, and many subsequent nights. The residents of Schooner Bay remained completely oblivious as Carolyn Gregg was very good at keeping up the appearance of being Carolyn Muir.